March 04, 2024, 07:55:58 PM
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Topic: advice on planning research, etc ... lack of guidance for newer grad student  (Read 4993 times)

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Offline snopez

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I'm in my 2nd year of grad school and struggling with research.  I'm still finishing up classes, teaching, etc. and I'm happy to hear (from reading other grad student advice post) that I'm not the only one to put on 10-15 lbs!  But seriously, I feel like I'm not getting much guidance or instruction from anyone in the group.  I know I'm a grad student and I have to learn to think .. but I feel like putting in the work but getting nothing accomplished. 
In my group there are a few senior members, and each works in his/her own lab, are very solitary, and just don't seem to care about the younger group members (like me) or future of the group.   Also, we all have our own projects, so just a brand new student coming in, I did not have anyone to "show me the ropes," or for me to learn effective lab skills and time management and how to plan time in lab, etc.   
My advise is not around as much as he used to be (I'm told by older members) and we pretty much come and go as we please.  He does not demand a certain amount of hours, but he obviously wants results.   Also we currently do not have group meetings, and have GC and glove box that have been not working since I came in the group.   The senior group members are sufficient and just ready to graduate (most in this group take 6-7 years) and don't care about group meetings, equipment they don't use, cleaning the group room, etc.   
I am frustrated.   I have spent all semester just trying to make the substrates for the reaction I'm supposed to be investigating, and keep going back to the beginning because I run out of starting material.  These are known reactions, even an organic synthesis prep, that are not working for me and I don't know why and need help.   I also know there must be a better way to plan reactions, and maximize time in lab, but my lack of confidence is majorly slowing me down or almost keeping me immobile.   
Can anyone give me suggestions on how to proceed, or ways they manage / maximize time in lab?   Or a approaching my adviser with these concerns?      Thanks so much for you help.

Offline democanarchis

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Hi, I'm also a second year. I found it very hard to judge what kind of progress I should have been making in first year, as my supervisor was almost completely absent. I always put in a 40 hour week, occasionally a bit more, but too much over that and I get sloppy.
It isn't about spending as much time in the lab as possible - in first year i would maybe put 4 reactions on a week, but by not planning them correctly I wasn't getting useful data. I found that taking it slower and planning the reaction out actually helped me to progress faster. I am a big fan of putting reactions on overnight, even if they are complete in 4/5 hrs (assuming they are stable of course  ;D). It means I can work up a reaction when I get in in the morning, get analysis done and have results by lunch. Then I spend a hour or two reading lit and deciding if my next step can go ahead based on the results, and put the reaction on before I leave.
I avoid column chromatography if possible, and when working up a new reaction that has an anyway solid crude product, i'll always try recrystallisation first, or if its an oil, short path distillation.

As for your reactions, it sounds like you need to plan your scaling better. If its A -> B 70 mol %, B-> C 30 mol % and you need 5 mols of C then you need start from ~ 24 mmols of A. If its a case of you can get to B, but not B -> C, then i'd start from a 100 mmol scale, or roughly enough to make 4 x your required mmols of C.

Org Synthesis preps have failed for me in the past, spent a month trying to get some sandmeyer reactions to work, without any success still! One of my major weaknesses is not assessing why my reactions fail, and i'm only recently getting better at it. Are you getting consumption of starting material? Are any characteristic product peaks present in 1HNMR? Have you access to GC/MS or high res MS? Make a post in these forums with the reaction details and you'll get some really useful feedback, really good bunch of people here who have definately helped me a lot in the past.

With regards to your group, that sounds pretty bad. Have you a panel of advisors etc? I would voice you concerns to your supervisor, just email him and ask him to contact you when he has a free 10 minutes. He may be so detached from the group that he might not realise what state the equipment is in. Don't be afraid to ask questions from the older members - what solvent system do you recommend and why, how do you use the hplc/polarimeter etc, where is x. Honestly, I bugged the hell out of the 4th years in my lab when I started, and I learned a whole lot, and they didn't really mind, and now the first years are asking me questions that I can give useful answers to.

Finally, i'd advise not to panic or stress too much. I certainly did, and it didn't really help any. I still have very little done at the start of 2nd year, but my methodology and technique is a lot better from all the hours i spent running reactions that didn't work, so don't worry about not getting stuff made so long as you are learning, thats the point after all! Good luck  8)

Offline SugarSkull

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Wow. You could be me. I look forward to reading more responses on this topic. I'm a few months into my second year, still finding my feet, which is frightening as here the time for finishing is 3-4 years. Had to change my project to something less heavy on synthesis as I spend ten months getting nowhere and not really getting any help at all. My synthetic skills still leave  a lot to be desired - I seem to be able to mess up even well established, published procedures.

Advice much appreciated.

Offline OC pro

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Organic chemistry is always frustration and anger at the beginning. But when things move on and skills improve slowly you get a lot back. I can remember the first asymmetric reaction I did and when I saw the analytics (NMR and HPLC) I was very very happy. It was a great feeling only chemists can understand  ;D
Especially total synthesis can be ( and in my eyes has to be) a pain in the ass.
My experience:
I also struggled for a year following every route my advisor told me. It was frustrating. I knew that the reactions will fail before I started the experiment. And then I developed an idea (being at the shower  ;D). Next day I ran into the computer room searching SciFinder and literature and came up with a brilliant idea. My advisor was not convinced at all. But it worked out very fine for me. I finished the 15-step sequence in only 2 months (from scratch) ending up with 100mg of natural product (it was actually a steroid).
It was so successful that I got 15 papers out of my Ph.D. (finished after 2 years, having done 800 reactions, working on 2 complete different projects, heterocycles and steroids) and 2 patents.
Now I work in the pharm industry doing what I mostly like: set-up and planning of syntheses to create sophisticated molecules.

My advice to you: Talk to your supervisor. And don´t feel bad about your skills. A lot of published procedures don´t work for me too... ::)

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